The first few days in England are always a bit odd after living in China. Another blogger called it reverse culture shock and I think that’s a great description.
The biggest adjustment is how polite everyone is in London. I always do a lot of shopping when I’m back and everytime I almost bump into someone, I have to remember to say “excuse me” or “sorry” and they will invariably say “sorry” back.
In Shanghai by comparison, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been virtually knocked off my feet my someone rushing to get past me and looked on in shock and anger as they continue onwards without showing even the slightest bit of remorse.
Also unexpected was the number of retail staff in London who after saying “thank you” proceeded to wish me a merry Christmas or happy new year. Each time it happened I was so unprepared I quickly mumbled something that usually came out as gibberish.
There’s politeness on the roads too. I found it highly amusing when the oncoming vehicle stopped to allow our car to pass by, since the road was too narrow at that point for two cars to pass at the same time (quite common in London). My brother was driving and he flashed his lights and waved to say thank you, then the other car driver waved to say thanks for saying thank you, and then my brother did one last wave, I guess to say thanks for saying thanks for saying thanks. I’m not entirely sure the other driver would not have gone for one more wave had we not already passed him by that point!
I drove in Beijing for several years and observed driving “etiquette” in Shanghai also. Here, the correct course of action is to speed up to ensure you get past first. The oncoming driver will do the same, so that you end up in a Mexican standoff situation where you remain for several minutes until one of you realises the only way either of you are going home is if one of you backs down and reverses back a little so the other can get by.
All I can say is, I am so happy to be back in China so I can dispense with all that unnecessary politeness which to be frank is very tiresome!